What Draws Cops & Their Relatives to Militant Ranks in Kashmir?
When on 1 April 2018, seven militants and a civilian died in a fierce encounter with security forces at Draggad, in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, people across the country were shocked to learn that the militants had been hiding in the home of an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer.
It was also unusual that the security forces managed to neutralise the militants once they’d come out of their hideout, without damaging the cluster of four residential houses. One of these houses belonged to 2012-batch IPS Officer, Dr Inamul Haq Mengnoo, a Superintendent of Police in the Assam-Meghalaya cadre.
Burhan Wani’s Death & Its Aftermath
A little-known fact is that the militants were in fact not hiding at the IPS officer’s house but at an adjacent one in his neighbourhood. The Mengnoos happened to be close relatives of Zubair Turay of Shopian, who was among the militants killed in that encounter.
A known pro-separatism activist, also booked in several cases of arson and stone pelting, Turay had taken to militancy after he escaped from the Keegam police station. In a video that went viral on social media, he alleged that recurring raids on his residence and arrests forced him to choose this path.
The family’s apprehensions of his having joined a guerrilla group came true when, on militant commander Burhan Wani’s second death anniversary on 8 July, the Hizbul Mujahideen spokesman announced that Shamsul Haq was among 20-odd Kashmiri youths who had joined his organisation after 21 May. The group released photographs of its fresh recruits carrying AK-47 rifles. It christened the IPS officer’s brother ‘Burhan Sani’, or the ‘second Burhan’.
Hizbul poster boy Wani’s death in an encounter in July 2016 had triggered unceasing turbulence across the Valley.
“Burhan’s death was a turning point, but there’s plenty of self-sustaining factors that keep the turmoil alive and attract youths, including relatives of mainstream politicians and police officials, towards militancy. Everybody in the system speaks Pakistan’s language and promotes the secessionist narrative. It was a free-for-all during Mufti Sayeed’s and Mehbooba Mufti’s period as chief minister,” said a senior police officer, on condition of anonymity.
A completely unbridled social media, for which nobody in TRAI or the Ministry of Telecommunication has been held accountable, as well as a near-total political breakdown in the last three years – besides implicating innocent youths in false cases and reports of excesses by police officials for extortion – are counted among the reasons of continuing recruitment in militant ranks.
Insiders revealed to The Quint how at least three youths in Shopian were fleeced even after the intervention of senior officers, including one former SSP who headed counterinsurgency operations for 15 years.
A guard at the then Minister Altaf Bukhari’s Srinagar residence, Pandit, deserted his post with two rifles. Days later, he was spotted among the eleven militants, with Burhan Wani as their ‘king’ – in a picture that went viral on Facebook. He was killed in an encounter in Shopian, in April 2016.
Why Stone-Pelting & Gun Violence Have Become the Norm
His colleagues told The Quint that Pandit was distressed by the fact that a number of youths had taken to drugs – both in terms of consumption and trafficking. He discreetly got a few of them detained at Pulwama police station, with a request to the munshi that they should be held for a couple of days and thereafter let off with a warning.
When a day later Pandit appeared at the police station, he found that the detainees had been thrashed to pulp and one of them was writhing in pain. Not even a blanket had been provided.
“This blend of victim-hood, excesses and extortion by some unscrupulous police officers, coupled with political breakdown and near-total disconnect between the people and the government functionaries, injustice to the youth, and the frustrations of unemployment – besides sustained indoctrination and unregulated social media – are the key factors. That’s why stone pelting and picking up guns have become commonplace,” said a retired IAS officer on condition of anonymity. He contended that “over 80 percent of current turbulence” in Kashmir was because of the “injustices” committed by different organs of the system.
“A huge vested interest is thriving and the youths are being pushed to the wall,” said the retired bureaucrat who claimed that a good governor’s administration could restore peace and normalcy – as the Valley had experienced from 2011 to March 2015.
A Turbulent Political Atmosphere
“The political dimension of the Kashmir turmoil is a long and complex process. From Pakistan’s side, its key lies with the Army. Even the Prime Minister and President of Pakistan have very limited say. Waiting for Hurriyat and others to join talks, and trying to find a resolution without involving the Pakistan Army, will be a futile exercise. Rather than holding Pakistan responsible for everything, India needs to set its own house in order,” said a professor of Jamia Millia Islamia.
“Pakistan is there. You can’t wish it away”.
Contrary to the professor’s advice, politicians and so-called peace activists have been in competition to call for dialogue and engagement of Kashmiri separatists, knowing fully well that not one of them can budge an inch without a green signal from Pakistani authorities.
According to the officials monitoring statistics at the Crime Investigation Department of the J&K Police, not more than 200 police and security personnel have joined militancy in the last 28 years.
“It appears to be a glaring trend because of the glorification of the gun culture by different quarters and social media that has become vibrant in the last 10 years and grabbed sizeable space after Burhan Wani (then 22) was permitted to emerge as an icon for the Valley’s age group of 15-25 years,” said a CID officer who is not authorised to speak to the media.
Some of the 15-odd personnel, who deserted their ranks to join mostly Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba in the last three years, hogged headlines for escaping with assault rifles. Of them, Syed Naveed Mushtaq of Shopian decamped with four AK rifles from the guardroom of the Food Corporation of India at Chondpora, Budgam in May 2017.
The last among them, till date, is Irfan Dar, who escaped with one rifle from Pampore police station. A J&K Light Infantry soldier posted in Bihar, sepoy Mir Idrees Sultan, and Abid Nazir, who had passed the National Defence Academy test after graduating with an engineering degree, slipped silently into the militant ranks.
In fact, Hizbul Mujahideen’s Operational Chief Ali Mohammad Dar aka Burhanuddin Hijazi, intelligence chief Mamoon Rashid – who caused a major blast at the office of the Director General of Police on 25 January 1992 – and militant-turned-counter-insurgent Azad Nabi – among others – worked for the J&K Police before changing sides.
“That’s one part of the story,” said a retired police officer who claims to have seized the first AK-47 rifle in 1989. “Another part is that thousands of the unemployed Kashmiris gather at Army and CRPF recruitment rallies for induction into security forces. They go everywhere, even to shout slogans for ISIS and Zakir Musa”.
“We were under tremendous pressure from Farooq Abdullah’s government to find and arrest a JKLF commander. A top police officer called us to his home and snubbed us for our failure. He warned us with dire consequences if we failed to find the JKLF commander. Years later, we were taken aback when the same JKLF leader disclosed to us that he was present at the senior officer’s house when we were being rebuked by him,” said the retired police officer.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. Views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)